CINCINNATI - Ron Smith has seen just about everything in his 41 years in the industry. One of those things is the disturbing trend of an increasing shortage of qualified HVAC workers. Smith, a former business owner and founder of Service America, an HVAC franchising organization, spoke with Excellence Alliance Inc. (EAI) meeting attendees on hiring, screening, employee retention, and other topics related to the worker shortage.

Smith quoted a recent News' survey of contractors who identified worker shortage as their biggest concern. He added that the U.S. Department of Labor projects a need for an additional 20,000 service techs and installers per year, and yet enrollment in HVAC training programs has been declining sharply.

He cited worker productivity as a major byproduct of the shortage. "Do we have a technician shortage problem or do we have a productivity problem?" Smith asked. "We have both. If I can increase productivity by 20 percent, that could mean a 20 percent decrease in staffing."

Smith used an example of an efficiency problem. "There is a waste of more than an hour each day if a tech comes into the shop before he gets to his first job."

He said that increasing productivity means that management needs to increase training, especially if new hires show a willingness to learn.

"I look for a high degree of competency in new hires, and I want people to have a burning desire to be on a winning team," Smith said.

He added these suggestions about training and productivity:

  • Pay for training. "If I'm not paying my people for training, I'm sending the wrong message."

  • Have a training director. "You don't have to hire one – it is often the boss."

  • Empower coworkers. "If I don't do this, I am micromanaging people and they don't get anything out of it."

  • Company turnover rate shouldn't be zero. "A zero turnover rate means you are keeping someone you may not need."

    Smith said he prefers to get referrals from employees, rather than paying for help wanted ads.

    "You can run an ad for three days at a cost of $500 to $700 and get no response. You can pay an employee a $1,000 commission and get someone who is already familiar to you."

    Once a new person is brought in for the interview process, Smith said that employers need to rehearse a "sales presentation" similar to that used for customers.

    "We usually know what we are going to say on a sales presentation, but do we know what we are going to say when a recruit sits down across the desk from us? This shouldn't be a canned presentation, but it has to be a planned presentation."

    Publication date: 01/19/2004